Untying the Gordian Knot
November 2011
Digital Rights Management

This paper firstly provides an introduction to the concept of DRM. It then identifies needs of end users and other stakeholder groups and analyzes how well today’s DRM systems fulfil these needs. The paper then analyzes legal and regulatory perspectives around DRM before drawing conclusions on which end game for DRM would be most beneficial for end users as well as other key stakeholder groups along the value chain. Digital Rights Management (DRM) has evolved as a means to protect the interests of content owners and aggregators to stop (or at least reduce) piracy. However, today’s DRM systems do not sufficiently incorporate the needs of end users and other key stakeholder groups along the digital media distribution value chain. Going forward, we see three possible scenarios for DRM:

  • Continued fragmentation of proprietary DRM systems and continued limited fulfillment of stakeholders’ needs and requirements (Continuation of today’s situation)
  • Gradual abandonment of DRM in favor of other content tracking techniques such as “watermarking” or “fingerprinting”
  • Emergence of one or several next generation DRM system(s) that manage to balance end user needs for ease of use, privacy protection etc. with the needs of all other stakeholders
From an end user perspective as well as other key stakeholder groups along the value chain, Scenario 3 above is the scenario that best encompasses the needs of all stakeholder groups. It is unlikely that we will see the emergence of successful next generation DRM systems that satisfy key stakeholder needs without:
  • The joint efforts of industry actors throughout the value chain
  • Necessary revision of copyright legislation by regulators to provide clear incentives to the industry to develop next generation DRM systems
  • DRM systems built on an interoperable set of proprietary standards or DRM technologies that are based on open industry-wide standards
Should this fail, all stakeholder groups may be better off with no DRM (Scenario 2) rather than a series of lopsided variants (Scenario 1).